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National Museum of Afghanistan

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National Museum of Afghanistan

The National Museum of Afghanistan, also known as the Kabul Museum, is situated in the center of Kabul City. It was built during the reign of King Amanullah Khan in 1922. The collections dated back to several millennia and were the most important in Central Asia.

During the Civil War in the early 1990s, the museum was plundered several times, resulting in a loss of 70% of the objects on display. The Bactrian Gold or the Bactrian Hoard, a treasure cache that laid under the “Hill of Gold” or Tillia tepe in Afghanistan for 2,000 years until Soviet archeologists exposed it before the 1979 invasion, was moved to underground vaults of the Afghanistan Central Bank. The hoard was thought to have been lost at some point; it was, however, found in a secret vault under the central bank in Kabul in 2003. The hoard was moved to the vault by the order of the last Communist president of Afghanistan, Mohammad Najibullah. The vault was locked with keys which were distributed to five trusted individuals, and in order to open the vaults, all the keys had to be available. The vault protected the Bactrian Hoard on numerous occasions from attempts by the Taliban to loot it.

In 2003, after the ouster of the Taliban, Hamid Karzai’s government wanted to summon the keyholders to open the vault; however the names of the keyholders were purposefully unknown. Hamid Karzai has to issue a decree authorizing the attorney general to go ahead with safecracking. But in time, the five keyholders were successfully assembled and the vault opened.

Since then, the National Geographic Society has catalogued the collection, which appears to be complete – 22,000 objects. Also witnessing the re-opening were National Geographic Explorer and Archaeology Fellow Fredrik Hiebert and the archaeologist who originally found the hoard, Viktor Sarianidi.

The collection is particularly valuable to the Afghan people, as much of their heritage was looted from museums during the civil wars after the fall of the Soviet-backed regime.

Selected items from the collection toured the United States from May 25, 2008 to September 20, 2009, with exhibitions in Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Houston, and New York City.

Other treasures in the museum include of ivory and antiquities from Kushan, early Buddhism and early Islam. One of the most important pieces is the Rabatak Inscription of King Kanishka. The Rabatak inscription is written on a rock in the Bactrian language and the Greek script, which was found in 1993 at the site of Rabatak, near Surkh Kotal in Afghanistan. The inscription gives remarkable clues on the genealogy of the Kushan dynasty.

Certain important parts of the collection, including material from Begram, Ai Khanum, Tepe Fullol, and the gold jewellry from all six of the excavated burials at Tillya Tepe, have been on travelling exhibition since 2006. They have been exhibited at the Guimet Museum in France, Four museums in the USA, the Canadian Museum of Civilization, the Bonn Museum in Germany, and most recently to the British Museum. They continue to tour and will eventually return to the National Museum.

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  1. Azadi
    Azadi 17 March, 2012, 08:06

    very informative.

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